The Samurai has become one of the most infamous and popular parts of Japanese history. The reason for this is that they have often been known as the knights of Japan, elite warriors who were bound by ideals of honor and courage. It was between the 9th and 12th centuries that the Samurai ended up becoming a class of their own.
The wars that were present throughout Japan were over the fact that only 20% of the land was available for farming. With such a great need for warriors there arose two major warrior classes. The Samurai, who were considered knights and the bushi who were known as warriors. The samurai were a mixed group with some of them being part of the ruling class and some of them being hired men, completely loyal to their daimyo (feudal landowner).
As time passed the emperor allowed these elite warriors to become protection for all of districts and provinces. These positions became hereditary and the families became known for their skills as warriors. These warrior families perfected their skill and became to govern their lives around honing their skills as a warrior. They developed a strict system of codes known as Bushido. This code was at its core completely and utter devotion to the daimyo.
This devotion was so strong that part of the code that the samurai would kill himself if he ever failed in his duty to the daimyo. Any samurai who did fail in his duty and survived would become known as a ronin or masterless samurai. These ronin became beggars, assassins and they were completely shunned by society. Many of them would commit ritual suicide and some would threaten to commit suicide about the houses of wealthy lords as a way of embarrassing the lords into giving them food.
The life of a ronin was one that no proud and true samurai wished for and so suicide became a strict part of the code as well. Anytime a samurai failed in his duty or risked being caught in war, he would commit suicide in order to retain his some of his honor. These strict rules also applied to the females who lived in these warrior families.
The samurai were also known for being skilled both on foot and on a horse. They based their code, samurai dress and weapons on the ancient Yayoi warriors of China. These warriors wore a helmet to protect their head and neck, a breastplate, arm and shoulder protectors and a belly warp. Later this armor would include protection for the legs and thighs.
The samurai are still known today as some of the best and most honorable warriors Japan has ever known.